Heroes were a class of beings worshipped by the Greeks, generally conceived as the powerful dead, and often as forming a class intermediate between gods and men. Not until the 8th cent. do hero‐cults become widespread and normal. The cult paid to heroes cannot be sharply distinguished from that paid to gods.
While heroes' sanctuaries tended to be smaller and less splendid than those of gods, often indeed occupying a small space within a divine sanctuary, a few heroes, such as Hippolytus at Troezen, had sanctuary complexes as impressive as those of any god. Hero‐shrines were often constructed around tombs, real or supposed, and the hero had a very close connection with that particular place. The exception to this is Heracles, who is in any case as much god as hero.
Concepts of heroes were as variable as their cult, if not more so. There is some evidence that heroes as a class were viewed as at least potentially malign, to be placated with apotropaic ritual rather than worshipped in the normal sense, but this is true only rarely of individual heroes, who more often appear as patrons or saviours of their city, as helpers in sickness or personal danger, and generally as benefactors. The traditions of their lives, deaths, and actions after death, however, usually contain some element of singularity or paradox. Many cult heroes were identified with the characters of heroic epic, but the newly dead might be given heroic honours, generally by oracular command, if they conformed to one of the heroic patterns, e.g. by instituting a divine cult or founding a city.
Subjects: Classical Studies.